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Laramie Movie Scope:
Monster's Ball

Like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," but with more blood and sex

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 7, 2001 -- "Monster's Ball" is a dark, sexy southern drama without the quaint, eccentric characters, the humor, the southern charm, or the upscale southern lifestyle. This is more like rednecks meet Lust in the Dust.

The central character in the story is bigoted prison guard Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton of "The Man Who Wasn't There") and about his deliverance from The Family From Hell. Hank's bigoted father, Buck (Peter Boyle of "The Santa Clause"), seems to have poisoned his whole family. Buck's wife has committed suicide years before. Hank continues to live with his father, as well as Hank's son, Sonny (Heath Ledger of "The Patriot"), who is considered weak because he doesn't hate blacks and is faint-hearted about executing prisoners.

Hank and Sonny, who works at the same prison with his father, have the duty of executing a prisoner, Lawrence Musgrove (played by rapper Sean 'Puffy' Combs). Sonny gets sick just before the execution and Hank later beats him for being weak and then tells his son he hates him. Buck also says that Sonny is weak. After some terrible tragedies, Hank quits working at the prison and buys a gas station. By chance, Hank comes to know a pretty local waitress, Leticia Musgrove (Halle Berry of "Swordfish"), who just happens to be the widow of the prisoner he helped to execute.

The ensuing love affair between Hank and Leticia helps heal them of their grievous psychological wounds. The first part of the film is truly tragic with three violent deaths and a lot of pain and suffering. I was wondering, about half way through, if there were going to be any actors left by the end of the film. We also see men trying to deal with the emptiness inside by using a local prostitute. Watching the two graphic sex scenes with the prostitute, I was reminded of the old Doors song, "Backdoor Man." The graphic sex scene between Hank and Leticia was so hot, I had to stop the video tape to keep it from melting. Another sex scene between the same two characters was edited abruptly, evidently to keep from getting the dreaded "X" or "NC-17" ratings.

The scene that was cut short shows Leticia enjoying herself while Hank is supposedly performing oral sex on her (he is out of the frame). It follows the old rule of thumb that I once heard director John Waters (a man who has some small experience with Hollywood censorship) talk about. The rule is, you can show graphic sex in a film and retain the "R" rating as long as the people having sex don't appear to be enjoying themselves. Accordingly, this particular scene was cut short because Leticia appeared to be enjoying her orgasm too much. It is ironic because she was faking it anyway, and there was no nudity. The other, more graphic sex scenes in the movie, all featuring at least partial female frontal nudity, were left fairly intact, because nobody was enjoying themselves too much, at least according to the Waters theory. The movie rating system is so weird.

This movie is filled with tragic events, but it does have a kind of mildly upbeat ending. Overall, it seems to be an almost ridiculously sad story, full of anger, hatred and pain. The love story, I know, is supposed to balance the tragedy and pain, but it doesn't. It also doesn't add up when you consider the rest of the story. It takes more than a little sex to overcome 16 tons of emotional baggage. The performances are quite good. This is Halle Berry's best work ever. I haven't been impressed with her past performances, but she really puts it all on the line in this film. Thorton plays a character with slightly more life to him than his flat character in "The Man Who Wasn't There." Peter Boyle does a fine job as the unrepentant bigot who seems to hate everything about his life. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2001 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)